Did you know that 70 percent of the immune system is housed in the gut? As our digestive system breaks down the foods we eat, our gut absorbs all the nutrients that support our body’s functions from energy production to hormone balance, mental health, waste elimination and immunity. Toxins are constantly assaulting our gut health through the air we breathe or the food we eat, so making sure our digestive system is in good shape is key.
Kelly Halderman, serving as Weo’s Chief Health Officer, walks us through the important role that hydration plays for our gut health.
While drinking water is often referred to as “the forgotten nutrient”, every biological system in our body relies on water. And so does our digestive health, otherwise known as our gut health. Although nutrition education has taught us to recognize a healthy diet, water remains deeply underestimated. A 2020 US study of 2,000 people found that more than half of adults in the United States don’t drink enough water – because they are too busy, forget or don’t track it, and that just 22 percent drink the USDA recommended eight to 10 glasses a day. Instead, the average American is drinking only half the recommended amount – five glasses a day.
Water intake plays a significant role in ensuring that your gut is doing precisely what you need to stay healthy. Adequate fluid intake will help regulate your bowel movements, prevent constipation, and break down foods in combination with stomach acids and enzymes. If there is not enough water available in your system, the result can be constipation, malabsorption leading to bloating or other uncomfortable symptoms. Stomach ulcers or acid reflux issues can also present themselves in more severe or prolonged periods of dehydration.
Our microbiome relies on hydration too.
The term “gut microbiome” refers to the microorganisms living in your gastrointestinal system. The human microbiome consists of upwards of 100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells, which outnumbers the amount of cells in the human body by 70 trillion! Our microbiome functions to create essential vitamins including vitamin B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K. It also helps to digest our food, regulate our immune system, and protect against other bacteria that cause disease. Each of us has about 200 different species of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in their digestive tract. Some microorganisms are harmful to our health, but many are beneficial and even necessary for a healthy body. In fact, research indicates that having a large variety of bacteria in the gut may help reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease and drinking plenty of water is linked to increased diversity of bacteria in the gut.
Proper hydration is also key to maintaining the mucus layer of the digestive system, which is where the microbiome lives. When we are not drinking enough water, that mucus layer becomes an unpleasant environment for our gut bacteria and they are negatively impacted and cannot function normally. One study also found that people who drank more water had less of a type of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal infections. Another recent study showed that inadequate hydration led to a decreased ability to clear a common pathogenic byproduct of bad bacteria, called Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) In other words, when the microbiome is affected, then our health is affected.
So many things are yet to be discovered but what we know today is clear… So do yourself a favor, stay hydrated, your body will thank you!